The law would prohibit dangerous productivity-measuring algorithms, and entitle workers to see what quotas they are being stacked up against.
California will likely pass legislation intended to curb the so-called “productivity measurement” algorithms used in Amazon fulfilment centers and warehouses across the country.
According to The Verge, the bill was approved by California’s lower legislative chamber in May; it is expected to clear the state senate later this month.
If passed, the bill would force Amazon and similar companies to offer transparent information on its automated quota systems. The proposal would also prohibit automated systems that have the potential to endanger the health or safety of workers.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the San Diego Democrat behind the bill, cited Verge reports showing that “hundreds” of Amazon warehouse employees had been fired for failing to meet productivity quotas—all at a single facility in Baltimore, in under a year.
The New York Times reports that Amazon workers “have frequently complained” that they are incessantly pressure to engage in constant, physically demanding work.
One worker told a study commissioned by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor that warehouse supervisors push even elderly employees beyond their limits.
“There were a lot of grandmothers,” the worker said. Managers would “come to these older women, and say, ‘Hey, I need you to speed up,’ and then you could see in her face she almost wants to cry.
“She’s like, ‘This is the fastest my body can literally go.’”
Gonzalez said that Amazon’s processes place undue stress upon workers’ bodies and minds.
“To make next-day delivery possible, corporations like Amazon have forced warehouse employees to work faster, service more customers with more orders in record amounts of time, and risk their own bodies in the process,” Gonzalez said in July. “No worker should be forced to sacrifice their basic human needs, or accept such undignified conditions for a paycheck.
“We cannot accept this as the new future of work,” she said.
The Verge observes that Gonzalez’s bill does not name Amazon; rather, it requires all warehouse employers in California to let workers see the details of any performance-measuring quotas or systems.
Rachel Michelin, president of the California Retailers Association, told The New York Times that the proposal specifically targets Amazon, yet has effects for the entire industry.
“They’re going after one company,” Michelin said, “but at the same time, they’re pulling everyone else in the supply chain under this umbrella.”
If passed, the legislation will allow California workers to request “a written description of each quota to which the employee is subject, including the quantified number of tasks to be performed, or materials to be produced or handled, within the defined time period, and any potential adverse employment action that could result from failure to meet the quota.”
Gonzalez implied that Amazon’s system omits workers’ humanity.
“The supervisory function is being taken over by computers, but they’re not taking into account the human factor,” she said.